An outcome-based curriculum design begins with defining the student learning outcomes for the
programme and the component subjects. This section attempts to guide you to do that.
This section is organised as follows:
• “What are intended learning outcomes?” aims to help you understand the role of intended
learning outcomes and the implications for various aspects of university education in general.
• “Our ultimate outcome: all-round development of students with professional competence”
elaborates the significance of outcomes with respect to PolyU’s mission.
• “Action verbs and levels of performance for outcome statements” discusses various levels of
outcome statements and performance.
• “Programme outcomes and subject outcomes” distinguishes between programme outcomes and
subject outcomes.
• “Examples of learning outcomes (for your discipline)” offers lists of exemplary outcomes by
• “Principles for effective outcome statements” deals with the principles and technicalities of writing
intended learning outcomes.
• Last, there is a checklist that summarises the key points.

What are Intended Learning Outcomes?
Let us imagine this situation now: we sit down and start writing the outcome statements. What are we
supposed to write? At the beginning of every semester teachers write up objectives and syllabus
topics for their programmes and lessons. What have they written? Do they differ from intended
learning outcomes?
To clear some confusion and answer these questions, let us distinguish some important differences
between the outcome-based approach and some common ‘traditional’ approaches to curriculum
􀂄 The Distinction between Learning Outcomes and Syllabus/Content
In brief, intended learning outcomes represent achievement attained by students instead of topics to
be covered, the latter being typically the purpose of a syllabus.
It is common that when teachers plan their curricula, they start by thinking about the relevant topics to
teach – a task that we can call defining the syllabus, which is certainly one important curriculum
planning task. Defining the syllabus is related to but NOT, by itself, specifying learning outcomes. Take
a hypothetical swimming course as example: the syllabus of the course could be incorporated with
contents such as ‘safety guidelines’, ‘breathing techniques’, ‘body motions’, and ‘swimming styles’,
whilst the outcome of the course would be ‘to swim in water effectively and safely’.
The distinction between outcomes and contents is important. The adoption of the outcome-based
approach implies a change in perspective from ‘content’ to ‘knowledge, abilities and attitudes
achieved by students’.
In the outcome-based approach, the main concern is, of course, the outcomes. To elaborate, what are
the desirable qualities of the graduates from your programme(s) and subject(s)? What knowledge
and skills you want and expect your students to demonstrate? What level of performance should they
demonstrate to be able to excel in their prospective role of entry-level professionals? For instance, for
the same topic about a particular chemical product, a programme aimed at producing chemical
engineers who develop the product differs from another aimed at producing marketing executives for
the product. Though students essentially need to learn the same topic, they will focus on different
perspectives and will use the knowledge in different ways and different contexts. This is why the
outcomes and desirable qualities are so important and therefore must be stated explicitly. For this purpose, let us look at the following two lists taken from the subject benchmark statements of Health
Studies, according to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
List A
1. the ability to make comparisons between a range of health contexts, such as individual and
institutional and national and international contexts;
2. the ability to analyse health and health issues, and health information and data that may be
drawn from a wide range of disciplines;
3. the ability to synthesise coherent arguments from a range of contesting theories relating to health
and health issues;
4. the ability to draw upon the personal and lived experience of health and illness through the skill
of reflection and to make links between individual experience of health and health issues and the
wider structural elements relevant to health;
5. the ability to articulate central theoretical arguments within a variety of health studies contexts;
6. the ability to draw on research and research methodologies to locate, review and evaluate
research findings relevant to health and health issues, across a range of disciplines.
(Source: Health Studies, QAA, 2004)
List B
The Health Studies graduates will demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
1. health as a contested concept;
2. the multidisciplinary nature of health studies;
3. the central place of research activity in the development of the subject;
4. the diverse determinants of health;
5. the contemporary issues at the forefront of the subject;
6. the range of realist and constructionist theories of causality relating to health;
7. …
(Source: Health Studies, QAA, 2004)
List B is basically a content list. Please note that even with phases such as ‘acquire knowledge and
understanding’ added to the statements, they are still not effective outcome statements. Verbs such as
‘know’ and ‘understand’ are too vague to be good verbs for outcome statements as they fail to indicate
what the students are able to perform, academically or professionally, with that knowledge. This
becomes very clear when these statements are compared with those in List A.
List A contains good examples of outcome statements at the programme level. These outcome
statements clearly delineate the academic abilities and performance of the students as a result of
academic learning. Please note that ‘action verbs’ in the outcome statements are highlighted. As
illustrated, using action verbs gives outcome statements a much clearer articulation of academic
performance than the words ‘understanding’ and ‘knowledge’. To elaborate, these action verbs
provide indications of the appropriate level of performance, beyond simply ‘knowing’.
􀂄 Using Broad Outcome Statements to Capture the Desirable Qualities
Outcomes refer to the desirable qualities of our graduates. They are not, however, a long and detailed
list of topics that they know. Students do learn a lot of subjects and topics. In the meantime, the
learning contributes to the development of some essential qualities, such as problem solving. Starting
from individual contents and particular specifications, however, will easily lead students to not seeing
the wood for the trees. Outcome-based approach requires the programme leader NOT to jump into
the details immediately before forming a big picture of the education provided to students. While
learning a particular topic, one cannot lose sight of developing the major abilities, using the specific
learning as a vehicle.
Hence for an outcome-based approach it is important to get the key areas of learning and
developmental outcomes right. And usually these outcomes are broad statements describing the final
quality, like problem solving, effective communication, etc. For example, the learning about the
various domains in an MBA programme is expected to lead to the development of the abilities to
identify and diagnose problems:
“(Identify/Diagnose problems) Ability to identify and diagnose business problems accurately and effectively across a wide range of business domains, including management practices, accounting
and financial management, operations, marketing, and strategic management.